Unions representing millions of U.S. workers salute Cork Spirit of Mother Jones Festival

AFL-CIO

AFL-CIO Proclamation

The Cork Mother Jones Committee has received commemorative scrolls from a number of trade union groups from the United States which collectively represent many millions of American workers.  The proclamations express gratituted and appreciation of Cork born Mary Harris Jones (a.k.a. “Mother Jones”) and her pioneering work on behalf of U.S. and migrant workers in the latter half of the 19th and early 20th century and also express thanks to the City of Cork and the Cork Mother Jones Committee for hosting the festival and summer school in her honour.

The proclamation from the American Federation of Labor – Congress of Industrial Organisations (AFL-CIO), the largest federation of trade unions in the United States, and its affiliates, representing in excess of 12.5 million U.S. workers, states: “On behalf of the 12.5 million members and 55 affiliates of the AFL-CIO, we are proud to support the Cork Mother Jones Festival.  America is a nation built by immigrants like Mother Jones whose Spirit lit a flame in our hearts”.

AFL-CIO Illinois

AFL-CIO Illinois Proclamation

A second proclamation, from the Illinois AFL-CIO Board, “We are honored she (Mother Jones) chose Illinois as her final resting place.  We give special thanks and recognition to the annual Spirit of Mother Jones Festival, for keeping her Irish Spirit alive in her birthplace, the Shandon area of Cork City, County Cork, Ireland. We thank you for sharing this grand individual with us. We are a grateful nation and a better one thanks to her. Blessed are all of you for keeping her spirit alive”.

The third proclamation is from the United Mineworkers of America, a union that Mother Jones had a close association with during her life.  It includes a personal word from the union’s International President, Mr. Cecil E. Roberts: “I, Cecil E. Roberts, International President of the UMWA, proclaim on behalf of a grateful miners’ nation, its friends and allies, that we will never forget this remarkable Irish-born woman, who showed us how to fight against injustice with every breath, fiber and essence of her being. We give special thanks and recognition to the remarkable annual Spirit of Mother Jones Festival for keeping her Irish Spirit alive in her birthplace, County Cork, Ireland, in the Shandon area of Cork City”.

UMWA

United Mineworkers of America – Proclamation

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Jack O’Connor: A Trade Union Strategy to Win for Working People

Jack O'Connor

Jack O’Connor speaking at the Spirit of Mother Jones Festival 2016. Photo: Niamh O’Flynn.

The 2016 Cork Mother Jones Lecture was delivered by Mr Jack O’Connor, President of SIPTU. Jack presented a paper entitled “A Trade Union Strategy to Win for Working People” on Thursday the 28th July, the opening night of the 2016 Spirit of Mother Jones festival at the Firkin Crane in Shandon.

In this challenging paper he concludes “that as we stand today, we have the capacity to ensure that workers can organise to win but that will not remain the case indefinitely. The sands of time are ebbing away. It is time to wake up and smell the roses” 
 
Jack referred to several trade union documents during the course of his talk. He has kindly forwarded the “Report of the Commission on the Irish Trade Union Movement….A call to Action presented at the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) Delegate Conference in Killarney in July 2011 andFuture Positive – Trade Unions and the Common Good”  also from the ICTU in 2013 and which are available from the links to same at the end of this page.
The Cork Mother Jones Committee wish to thank Jack O’Connor for delivering the 2016 Cork Mother Jones Lecture.

 

Speech at the Mother Jones Festival, Cork by SIPTU General President, Jack O’Connor.

 

A Trade Union Strategy to Win for Working People

 

Comrades and friends,

This year’s Mother Jones Festival takes place against the background of the continuing trauma of the most serious crisis in global capitalism since the 1930s. It is important to say from the outset that this is a demand side crisis largely attributable to exponentially growing inequality in what we know as the “developed world”.

The phenomenon manifests itself in the world of work or the “labour market” in the form of mass unemployment, increasing precariousness and social insecurity on an unprecedented scale. This is increasingly evident in Ireland, Europe and the West. Precarious work, of course, is not new in the developing world where it has been the order of the day for a long time.

It falls to the trade union movement to step up to the task of reasserting human priorities in the workplace and ultimately in the wider economic and social paradigm. It is important to stress this because in the culture of “business unionism” this tends to be taken for granted or even lost sight of altogether. It is also important to say that trade union organisation is the only way to address the task. More important, it is crucial to assert that the trade union movement in Ireland still has the capacity to meet the challenge and to win for working people. Indeed, this is the fundamental premise of this short paper here this evening.

However, to do so, our movement must transform itself, ideologically, culturally and structurally.

In practical terms, it is a challenge which must be met at an industrial, pedagogical and political level.

In order to approach it, we must disabuse ourselves of a number of deeply held myths and misconceptions. One of these, for example, is that the dramatic growth in the, post- Lockout, Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union between Easter Week 1916 and the end of 1918 was primarily attributable to the resistance offered during the Lockout itself and the subsequent events which occurred throughout the decade of rebellion. The fact of the matter is that what happened had more to do with the Munitions Act. This was because, in 1917, the legislation which had been put in place by the government in the United Kingdom to maintain industrial peace for the duration of the war was extended to Ireland. Agricultural Wages Boards which had been set up across the UK to determine wages and conditions to guarantee the food supply were then put in place in Ireland as well. Virtually immediately, agricultural labourers found that the most effective way to secure improvements was by joining a trade union and they flocked to the ranks of the ITGWU in their thousands. It quickly established itself as the dominant union in the sector, absorbing smaller land and labour unions along the way. Membership, which had fallen to somewhere between 3,500 and 5,000 by the time of the Easter Rising, increased to 68,000 by the end of 1918 and 120,000 in 1920. Obviously, the sentiment engendered by the Lockout, the Rising and the War of Independence influenced developments but they were not the primary reason for the growth in union membership. The institutional arrangements put in place for conciliation and arbitration over a whole range of industries also resulted in a very dramatic rise in trade union membership and density across every single region of the UK.

That phenomenon has replicated itself repeatedly in all circumstances in which conditions favourable to the growth of union membership have presented – e.g. during the post war period across Europe, the period following the economically regenerative 1960s and the period following entry into the EEC in Ireland. The purpose of this reference is to debunk the myth that declining union density in the Ireland or indeed throughout the developed world is in some way attributable to some kind of inter-generational or cultural disconnect. It could be argued that such exists but it is consequence rather than the cause of the phenomenon.

The simple fact of the matter is that working people and indeed people generally for that matter will organise in one of two circumstances or better still when a combination of both exist. These are:

  1. When they believe they can win and
  2. When they have no other alternative.

That rule applies throughout the history of industrial societies and in all circumstances irrespective of generational dynamics. It therefore follows that the challenge we must overcome is to instill a belief in people that they can actually win by organising.

Of course, the reality is that the balance has shifted quite dramatically against organised workers and in favour of capital over the past quarter of a century or more. This is attributable to the complex interaction of an array of global factors, each of which merits an entirely separate paper on their own. However, for this evening’s purpose I will simply cite the most significant of them:

  1. The fall of the Soviet Union more than a quarter of a century ago. This immediately virtually quadrupled the global supply of labour available for exploitation by capital (from about 750,000 to two billion when China is included).
  2. The extension of the process of globalisation. This imposed the exploitative employment standards of the developing world in the marketplaces of the West.
  3. The decline of manufacturing in the developed economies.
  4. The expansion of household credit and indebtedness in response to the collapse of real incomes.
  5.  The ultimate global collapse of 2008.
  6.  The decline of social democracy and the shift to the centre right in the political arena.

Lenin wasn’t wrong when he said “the crisis of social democracy is the crisis of capitalism”.

In Europe, in particular, the response which has been employed since 2010 (and earlier in our case) has been one of retrenchment – austerity combined with a “race to the bottom” in the workplace to maximise “competitiveness”. This, as we know, has resulted in the generation of mass unemployment particularly among the young in several European countries which has not been seen since the immediate post war years, accompanied by precariousness and hopelessness which is increasingly evolving into desperation.

We are now entering a new and more dangerous phase in the evolution of the crisis of capitalism and of European and global history. What has happened is that the politics has now caught up with the economics as we always said it inevitably would and it is manifesting itself in a sharp swing in most cases to xenophobic nationalism and the radical right. It is no overstatement to say that we are on the road to catastrophe. This leads through the disorderly collapse of the euro which would inevitably result in levels of deprivation and societal break down beyond anything that can be visualised in our everyday imagination. It would end in a regime of competing nation states and ultimately in regional wars.

I should say at this point that unless the policies of one-sided austerity or even fiscal neutrality as they now call it, combined with the race to the bottom in the world of work, are abandoned immediately the scenario I describe above is not some vague possibility – but is actually inevitable.

I turn then to the question as to “What is to be done?”. After all we are not the EU Commission, the Council of Ministers or the governing board of the ECB. We are not even the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC). What can the trade union movement under pressure in a small country in the western periphery of Europe actually do? Well, it remains to be seen – but our obligation is to do everything that we can in our own space.

First and most importantly, we must address the ideological question. Our movement is comprised of an array of organisations founded on the basis of different but not incompatible premises. A number of our unions are vocational organisations formed to promote the interests of those employed in a particular profession, vocation, trade or craft. Others are more general in character formed to promote the interests of members but in the context of a wider historical mission towards an egalitarian society. As long as we function on the basis that, irrespective of the prevailing conditions in the economy and more particularly in society, the cause of a particular vocation or trade or craft can be furthered independently, we cannot make real progress. We have to face up to the challenge of influencing the conditions within which we organise and operate as distinct from simply promoting the cause of a particular group in a context which is determined by others.

The other concept that must be debunked is the notion that it is in some way our role to provide an antagonistic voice against management in those businesses and institutions which recognise their employee’s right to organise and be represented by trade unions. This thinking is fundamentally flawed. Our task is to optimise the quality and the security of our members’ employment in these businesses and institutions. It therefore follows that we must be at the forefront of the thrust to enhance productivity and innovation instead of getting in the way of it as we sometimes do. The fact of the matter is that the security and quality of our members’ employment is entirely dependant on the prosperity of the enterprises in which they work. Moreover, the key to good working conditions and indeed standards of living generally is exponentially increasing productivity. I emphasise, because it will undoubtedly be misrepresented, that this is not about increasing the drudgery or onerousness of work. Actually, it is precisely the opposite.

There is another complementary reason for this approach and that is to minimise employer hostility. We have to reverse the current equation in which we can sometimes find ourselves impeding the prospects for an enterprise that engages in collective bargaining instead of actually enhancing them. Meanwhile, we fail to confront those who do not respect their employee’s right to organise or be represented by trade unions. This equation is graphically evident in any analysis of the deployment of trade union resources as between ‘servicing’ members where we are recognised and organising to confront those who do not afford recognition. It is a fundamentally flawed strategy and it is doomed to failure. The reality of it is that, apart from workers, we should be able to demonstrate that employers who recognise trade unions also enjoy an advantage over those who don’t.

The second criterion I mentioned at the outset arises in the pedagogical arena. This is at least two-dimensional.

In the first instance, we have a responsibility to equip workers to assert their own interests by knowing their rights and understanding how to vindicate them. At a collective level, that extends to developing a greater understanding among our members and workers generally of the nature and character of the forces and influences at work in capitalist society. This applies both in terms of the economics of the companies in which people may work and the wider political arena as well.

In parallel with this, we equally have a responsibility as has been the case with the craft unions of the past to facilitate the education, training and development of our members and workers in the enhancement of their skills. This is particularly applicable in the rapidly changing dynamics of the modern labour market where skills and competencies are becoming redundant almost as rapidly as they are appearing.

The third criterion I mentioned at the outset relates to the political arena.  As long ago as the new unionism of the 1880s, our leaders recognised the necessity to compete for political influence and power in order to overcome the limitations of what could be achieved through workplace collective bargaining. This saw the development of political funds and political affiliations to the labour and social democratic parties. Today, in the light of the crisis of social democracy and the increasing diffusion of political representation on the left, there is a need for a more nuanced approach. However, this is not an argument for the depoliticisation of trade unionism. Indeed, quite the opposite is the case. However, our political activity should focus on shifting the entire fulcrum of the debate in society in a manner which prioritises human considerations and egalitarian objectives as distinct from promoting one political party. The aim must be to frame the architecture of the political ‘centre ground’.

On the face of it, this seems an awesome challenge. Yet it is still entirely within the capacity of the trade union movement in Ireland as things stand at present but it cannot be undertaken successfully by any single trade union. Thus, we must have the courage and vision to make the changes that will enable us to accomplish it. The roadmap was outlined in the recommendations of the report of the Commission on Trade Union Organisation to the biennial delegate conferences of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, in Killarney in July 2011 and then in Belfast in July 2013 – the centenary of the Lockout.

These envisaged developing a stronger, more united, more coherent movement, organised in a federal rather than a confederal congress. This, while respecting the autonomy of each individual trade union, would facilitate co-ordination of collective bargaining and organising across each of the individual sectors of the economy in both jurisdictions on the island. Such co-ordination would optimise the prospects for the negotiation of the best possible agreements with employers who respect their employees’ right to organise.  Simultaneously, it would enable the deployment of irresistible force in support of workers seeking to organise where unions are not recognised.

This capacity would be reinforced by the development of a fully resourced research capacity, a new workers college, an independent workers controlled media platform and the opening of trade union centres in every major town on the island.

The elements are actually reflected in the ‘One Cork’ project which is underway on a small scale here in this city.

As we stand today, we have the capacity to ensure that workers can organise to win but that will not remain the case indefinitely. The sands of time are ebbing away. It is time to wake up and smell the roses!

 

Documents referred to in our introduction to Jack O’Connor’s address:

Report of the Commission on the Irish Trade Union Movement – A Call to Action

Jack O Connor A Call to Action Final version 

Future Positive – Trade unions and the Common Good

Jack O’Connor TradeComReport_web

Organising in the Shadow of the Law

Tish Gibbons

Tish Gibbons

Tish Gibbons works as a researcher with SIPTU’s Strategic Organising Department and leads up its innovative Educate to Organise programme.

She was a union organiser with SIPTU from 1997 to 2008 and will address the above topic at this year’s summer school.

Tish has worked in the Irish trade union movement for 30 years starting in a clerical capacity with the FWUI before becoming a union organiser with SIPTU in 1997.  A constant part-time student, She holds a Diploma in Industrial Relations and a BA in English & Politics from UCG; a Post-graduate Diploma in Social Research Methods (OU) and MA Industrial Relations (Keele).  After studying for four years at the Working Lives Research Institute in the London Metropolitan University, she was awarded a professional doctorate for her thesis on union recognition and organising.

She is a board member of the Irish Centre for the Histories of Labour and Class and has published in labour law, industrial relations and labour history journals. Earlier this year she addressed the annual Jim Connell commemoration weekend at Crossakiel, Co Meath.

Tish has spent many years as a union organiser on the ground, as did Mother Jones in the USA. The Cork Mother Jones Committee is delighted that she has agreed to bring her experiences and her views on organising workers to the 2016 Spirit of Mother Jones Summer School.

Ms. Gibbons will speak on Organising in the Shadow of the Law at 4.30 on Friday 30th July at the summer school. All welcome.

Jack O’Connor to deliver the 2016 Cork Mother Jones Lecture.

The Cork Mother Jones Committee is pleased to announce that the Cork Mother Jones Lecture 2016 will be delivered by Mr Jack O’Connor, General President of SIPTU.

Jack O'Connor

Jack O’Connor

The 5th annual lecture will take place at the Firkin Crane Theatre on Thursday 28th July at 8pm, following the 2016 festival and Summer School  opening ceremony at the Mother Jones plaque in Shandon.

Jack O’Connor is probably the most recognised and best known trade union leader in Ireland. A Dubliner, Jack was originally a trade union activist before working for the Federated Workers’ Union of Ireland. When the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union and the Federated Workers’ Union of Ireland (both founded by “Big” Jim Larkin) merged in 1990 to form SIPTU, he became regional organiser for SIPTU.

He was appointed General President of SIPTU in 2003. Jack was also President of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) from July 2009 to July 2011.  His declared priorities are combating worker exploitation, promoting people’s rights to participate in collective bargaining. He promotes the principle of “Fairness at Work and Justice in Society. He refuses to serve on any State Board while in his present role in SIPTU. Jack is a member of the Labour Party.

The future of the organised labour and the trade union movement in Ireland and indeed across Europe is being faced with a concerted move by governments in the public sector and multinationals in the private sector to enforce changes in work patterns, forced self-employment, zero hours contracts, reduced pay and conditions and more productivity. Hostile opposition by employers to trade union organising in workplaces has grown. Many young people joining the workforces of multinationals and other enterprises are not allowed the opportunity to become union members.  The huge achievements of the trade union movement over the past century, achievements, which many people today take for granted, are under sustained threat.

Jack O'Connor

Jack O’Connor, General President of SIPTU

These issues require a serious and well thought out response from the organised labour movement. Jack O’Connor has a contribution to make.

He will discuss his views for the future responses of the labour movement to the changing organised labour environment at the Firkin Crane Theatre on Thursday evening 28th July at 8pm in a talk entitled “Organising to win – what is to be done!”

“Get off your knees” – the Rosemary Feurer lecture 2014

At the Spirit of Mother Jones Festival 2014 an important paper was delivered Professor Rosemary Feurer of Northern Illinois University.  Prof. Feurer, who had also spoken at the inaugural festival in Cork in 2012, examined the parallel activities of Mother Jones and the great Irish socialist leaders James Connolly and “Big Jim” Larkin, in particular looking at the similar paths they followed, both geographical and philosophical and conclusions they reached.

You can download the full text of Prof. Feurer’s lecture by clicking on the link below:-

Get Off Your Knees Feurer

 

 

Rosemary Feurer

Rosemary Feurer in Cork, August 2014 with the banner of Women Against Pit Closures from the UK Miner’s Strike 1984

Rosemary Feurer is Professor of History at Northern Illinois University.  She co-directed “Mother Jones, America’s Most Dangerous Woman”.  Author, she writes extensively on labour history.  Rosemary is Administrator of www.motherjonesmuseum.org website and Mother Jones Lives.  She attended the inaugural Spirit of Mother Jones Festival in Cork in 2012 and delivered the above lecture at the same festival on August 1st, 2014.   You can download the full lecture by clicking on the link below:

 

Marat Moore’s inspiring address to Cork Mother Jones Festival

Marat Moore on Croagh Patrick

Marat Moore at the summit of Croagh Patrick mountain, Co. Mayo, Ireland.

Cork’s Gift to American Labor:

Thoughts on the Extraordinary Life of Mary Harris Jones

This is a revised and longer version of the inaugural lecture given by Marat Moore at the Mother Jones festival on August 1, 2012, at the Firkin Crane Center, Shandon, Cork.

 

Go raibh maith agat. Thank you, Ger.  This festival is a landmark event in the history of Mary Harris (“Mother”) Jones—the first time that her life in Ireland and her work in the United States have connected in such a powerful and public way. We owe a debt of gratitude to the organizing committee for bringing her home to Cork.

As a former coal miner, I’m here to talk about how Mother Jones helped build the most powerful union in America in the early 20th century, the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA). And as a writer working on a novel about her, I will also explore Mary’s childhood in Cork, which in my view was not just the city of her physical birth, but the birthplace of all she came to be. The other story I will share concerns her living legacy and the birth of the Daughters of Mother Jones in the historic Pittston coal strike in the Appalachian coalfields.

*                                  *                                  *                                  *

For Mother Jones, coal miners were her “boys” and the United Mine Workers union was her home in the family of labor—the family she regained years after the tragic loss of her own family from yellow fever in Memphis, Tennessee.

She had a lot to say about the plight of coal miners, including this:

“The story of coal is always the same. It is a dark story. For a second’s more sunlight, men must fight like tigers. For the privilege of seeing the color of their children’s eyes by the light of the sun, fathers must fight as beasts in the jungle. That life may have something of decency, something of beauty—a picture, a new dress, a bit of lace fluttering in the window—for this, men who work down in the mines must struggle and lose, struggle and win.”

Let’s look at one moment when she was fighting for coal miners—exactly one hundred years ago today, on August 1, 1912. She had just turned 75—although she told everyone she was in her 80s—and near the peak of her fame. On that day, she lifted her black skirts and climbed in her work boots on the back of a dray wagon beside the Kanawha River near Charleston. She spoke to a crowd of striking miners who doubted they could win against coal operators and the politicians they controlled, and companies’ hired gun thugs. The location was just outside the strike zone, was one of the few places the strikers could safely gather.

But nowhere was really safe. A week earlier, 16 men had died in a battle between mine guards and miners. Because she had been giving speeches in the area, coal operators believed she had incited the violence. So they planted a spy in the crowd to take down her every word in shorthand. She aimed her remarks at the gun thugs and the governor, saying:

 “We are law-abiding citizens, we will destroy no property, we will take no life, but if a fellow comes to my home and outrages my wife, by the Eternal he will pay the penalty. I will send him to his God in the repair shop! The man who doesn’t do it hasn’t got a drop of revolutionary blood in his veins.” 

In the next few months, she faced down machine guns, was arrested and court-martialed under military law on a trumped-up murder charge, and imprisoned.  But she managed to smuggle out a telegram to a U.S. senate committee that turned the tide of the strike, and helped to win it.

Two years later she was in Colorado with more than 1,000 striking miners, mostly immigrants who could not speak English, at the Ludlow tent colony. She was arrested twice during that battle. From a jail where people had died of exposure and disease, in 1914 she smuggled out another blazing message that proved again that she could not be silenced:

“I am being held a prisoner incommunicado in a damp, underground cell in the basement of a military bullpen at Walsenburg, Colorado … I want to say to the public that I am an American citizen, and I claim the right of an American citizen to go where I please so long as I do not violate the law.

To be in prison is no disgrace. In all my strike experiences I have seen no horrors equal to those perpetrated by General Chase and his corps of Baldwin-Felts detectives that are now enlisted in the militia.  My God, when is it to stop? I have only to close my eyes to see the hot tears of the orphans and widows of working men, and hear the mourning of the broken hearts and wailing of the funeral dirge, while the cringing politicians whose sworn duty it is to protect the lives and liberty of the people crawl subserviently before the national burglars of Wall Street who are today plundering and devastating the state of Colorado economically, financially, politically and morally.

Let the nation know that the great United States of America is now holding [me] incommunicado in an underground cell surrounded with sewer rats, tinhorn soldiers and other vermin.”

Signed, Mother Jones.

*                                  *                                  *                                  *

How did Mary Harris, the newborn baptized at the North Cathedral 175 years ago today, become “The Miner’s Angel” and “Labor’s Joan of Arc” in America? How did she find the strength and the courage to become Mother Jones after suffering so much tragedy in her personal life?

We don’t know—in part because she didn’t tell the truth about her past. She must have had her reasons. As a result, we know much more about what she became as Mother Jones than how she got there.

Her story began on these crooked streets of Shandon on the northside of Cork, somewhere near where we gather today. The poet William Blake said the crooked paths are the paths of genius, and that was surely true of Mary Harris Jones.

I believe that Mary got a very strong start in Cork. In fact, her first 10 years here before her father and brother emigrated in 1847, were the most stable decade of her long life. We don’t know the circumstances of the Harris family, and assume it was difficult, but she had the support of an intact family, a home, a parish and a tightly knit community. As a child it is likely she was deeply grounded in the Catholic faith. Never again in her 93 years did she have that solid base of home, family, community and faith for that long a period.

She needed that base. Before she was 35, she endured three personal and social traumas—famine, fever and fire. The famine here in Cork, the yellow fever that killed her family in Tennessee, and the Great Fire of Chicago. And not even making the top three are having babies throughout the Civil War, the race riot in Memphis in 1866.

Research in early childhood development gives a hint about why Mary may have been resilient in later life. Children who are given loving care in their early years—and then endure an adversity that they survive with help and support—are best able to deal with trauma in adulthood. And the largely female Harris family left in Cork through the famine did survive.

Mary, growing into her teens, must have played a major role in caring for the family. In these streets she also witnessed, for the first time, the ravages of economic injustice and heard the grating of the death carts. Living in the highly politicized world of Cork City, she likely understood, even at her young age, the roots of the starvation as she watched butter and meat transported to the docks on the Lee and exported to people who already had enough to eat.

*                                  *                                  *                                  *

There are some tantalizing hints about what she may have learned during her most impressionable years. When Mary was 6 years old, for example, in 1843, Daniel O’Connell staged one of his monster rallies here.

Did she attend the rally with her parents? O’Connell drew hundreds of thousands; everyone went to his rallies. I imagine her at that rally, hoisted on her father’s shoulders, thrilling to the roar of the crowd and O’Connell’s powerful voice and message about Catholic Emancipation. Years later, Mary would hold her own monster rallies, and it was her voice and her message on emancipation of workers that could move coal miners to tears.

Abolition was another theme that surfaced in Cork in the 1840s before the famine. On the day of O’Connell’s Cork rally, a procession moved through the city, led by a float that carried two men, one painted black and one white. According to Thomas Keneally in his book, The Great Shame, the black figure wore a sign that said “Free” and held up his broken chains because England had ended slavery in the West Indies. The white man, representing the Irish, held up his chained fists and wore a sign saying, “Still a Slave!”

Two years later, in 1845, when she was 8, the famous abolitionist and former slave Frederick Douglass gave four stirring speeches in Cork. Did she hear Douglass speak? Or perhaps hear about Douglass from her parents and neighbors? If she did absorb some of this abolitionist sentiment, it alters the way we see her decision to move to Memphis, Tennessee, on the cusp of the Civil War. She likely was not naïve about the choice of that southern city where she would see American slavery close at hand.

*                                  *                                  *                                  *

Mother Jones has been part of my life for 35 years, since the late 1970s when I worked as an underground miner in Mingo County, West Virginia, near the town of Matewan which was the site of an explosive mine war in 1920. Retired miners in their 80s and 90s told me stories about hearing Mother Jones speak there in 1920. Although she was rather short, one miner said, “She was the biggest woman I ever seen!”

In the mines, you watch out for each other. I remember one day when a buddy and I worked on the coal face when a machine lost its brakes and came barreling down the incline at us with no lights. We couldn’t see it and couldn’t hear it because of the noise at the coal face. A union brother nicknamed Bullhead threw us into the tunnel wall and saved our lives.

Women were first hired as coal miners in the mid-1970s, and by 1979 there were about 5,000 of us nationwide. Women miners were among the union’s most activist members, and we formed a national network that lasted 20 years and built solidarity with workers internationally. Mother Jones inspired us–we held a conference in southern Illinois just so we could make a pilgrimage to her grave.  But women coal miners did much more—they confronted the union on issues of family leave, acid rain pollution caused by coal mining, and sexual harassment in the mines. They become such a force that at our annual conferences, the union president and his staff felt obligated to attend, maybe just to keep an eye on them.

It was the network of women coal miners—known as the Coal Employment Project—that gave birth to the Daughters of Mother Jones in the historic Pittston coal strike in the late 1980s. By that time I was working for the United Mine Workers of America in Washington, DC, but remained active in the women miners’ movement.  My job involved photographing underground in many mines and writing about mine safety, but on the side I organized miners’ wives and children.

In 1988 the Pittston coal company canceled health benefits for pensioners and widows to provoke a strike. Instead the United Mine Workers of America decided to prepare for a strike by building public support and keeping the miners on the job.

Public support meant family support. I proposed organizing a network of family support in southwest Virginia through the Pittston local unions, and union approved the plan and allowed me to hire two laid-off women miners to help. The three of us were the core committee. We hit the ground running and had about a dozen groups formed and they held rallies in their communities and set up a year-long informational picket line at the company headquarters.

The union launched the strike against Pittston in early 1989 and decided that the women should stage a nonviolent occupation as the strike’s first act of civil disobedience. Our committee met secretly with 40 women and they wanted a name. Mother Jones came up immediately, and then someone called out, “We’re the Daughters of Mother Jones.”  The name itself gave us courage. We laughed and shared her history—about earlier strikes when miners’ wives had been jailed with their babies and Mother Jones suggested they sing all night! Finally the jailer freed them because he couldn’t stand the noise!

The women of the Pittston strike were worried about giving their names to media in case the company targeted their husbands for retaliation. So we numbered off: Daughter of Mother Jones #1, Daughter #2, through #40. When CNN brought its cameras into the building for interviews and would ask a woman her name, she’d say, “I’m the Daughter of Mother Jones #14.” CNN had to shut off its cameras and ask, “Who is Mother Jones?” So we had labor history sound bites on Mother Jones in print, and on radio and TV.

Mother Jones said, “An army of mining women makes a spectacular picture.” In the end about 1,000 women and children were actively involved in the Pittston strike. The Daughters engaged in mass arrests and jail vigils and helped run Camp Solidarity, a makeshift camp with bunk beds that drew thousands of supporters from around the country and the world, including a group of Siberian miners.

Then the students walked out of several high schools and marched to the jails where their parents were detained. And the women had their Mother Jones fun. They turned around road signs with route numbers pointing in the wrong direction to confuse the state police and armed guards. Coal operators consider wives no threat and ignore them, a fact that can be used to great advantage.

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Now a new chapter of Mother Jones history is being written—here, where it all began, in Cork. This is part of a second flowering of interest in her that I have seen. The first was in the 1970s and spawned books, plays, reenactors and Mother Jones magazine. This Mother Jones Rising has also triggered much creative work and her legacy has been linked to the Occupy movement and current economic and union struggles.

What is her message to us today? To organize to confront the current economic and political upheaval, and work for justice. To free ourselves of prejudice and give up our petty differences. She inspired more than half a million coal miners, mostly immigrants, and with thousands of other workers in the United States.  She stayed the course. What inspires me most about Mary Harris Jones is the courage of her soul—which not only predates Mother Jones, but made her possible.

We live in a time as turbulent as hers. Can we carry on her legacy of resistance to powerful corporations who rob the poor and destroy our earth?

Are we up for it? Let us take her brave spirit into our hearts as the sons and daughters of Mother Jones, and fight like hell for the living.

THE END